Design charrette held for Askew, Wharton Dual Language, Young Women’s College Prep

Project Advisory Team (PAT) members for Askew Elementary, Wharton Dual Language Academy, and Young Women’s College Prep Academy (YWCPA) spent two days this week in an intensive workshop to put together preliminary design plans for their new facilities.

Referred to as a design charrette by architects, the workshop provided project teams for these schools the opportunity to work separately to hash out design plans unique to their campus, present their ideas to other PATs, and give and receive feedback.

“I love the process. It’s a great chance for everyone to come together in a concentrated effort to discuss the pros and cons of different options,” said Natex Architects’ Carolina Weitzman, architect for the YWCPA project. “We don’t get a chance to do this with our other clients, but HISD’s commitment to engage the community and the Project Advisory Teams is great.”

Based on input received from PAT members over the last six months, architects for the Askew project came to the table with four design options to use as a starting point. After the first day, team members eliminated two of the options and tweaked the remaining two. Feedback from other schools helped the team reached a consensus for a plan they are excited about.

“The charrette has been great because it’s given us a vision, something tangible that we didn’t have before,” said Askew fifth-grade teacher and PAT member Karen Calhoun. “Now we can visualize the plans and see the direction we are going. I can already see where my classroom will be.”

A proposed design for Askew would feature a new two-story building with ample natural light and flexible learning spaces, an outdoor learning area and “Askew All-Stars” branding throughout. It also would feature a flexible computer learning center with an internal stairway for access to the area from both floors.

The Wharton Dual Language Academy is a K-8 school that provides instruction in both English and Spanish. Their PAT settled on a hybrid of two different options presented by architects.

“The architects have done a lot of research, they have looked at our school from all different angles, they have listened to our suggestions, and they have presented other perspectives for us to consider,” said PAT member and parent Cynthia Rangel. “I am really happy with our progress.”

A proposed design for the Wharton project would include “maker labs” featuring robotics and 3D printers located next to an arts lab to encourage collaboration. The PAT would like to include colorful spaces to incorporate Hispanic tradition and culture to enhance the school’s dual language programming, as well as a central courtyard open to many parts of the building for natural light. Teachers would have common workspaces to collaborate.

The YWCPA building has been an historical presence in the third ward for many years, and the PAT is committed to preserving and honoring the rich history of the building and its past occupants, so the team is challenged with incorporating the historically significant 1925 building into a 21st century design.

The building has been modified throughout the years, and currently has small classrooms, long  hallways and multiple buildings and entrances.

A preliminary design option would feature reconfigured open and flexible classroom spaces, with updates to mechanical equipment and finishes. Some of the lockers that currently line both sides of the hallways, would  be removed and windows added to create flexible work spaces and bring in natural light from the courtyard.

“When I first visited the building I saw a girl sitting on a narrow ledge in the dark hallway trying to work on her laptop,” Weitzman said, “The new design will open things up and provide comfortable spaces where the girls can work on projects individually or in small groups.”

The renovated building is slated to keep its historical facade but a proposed plan would include a secure and more welcoming internal main entrance. The parent drive/student drop off area is slated to be closer to the front door and would feature a covered walkway. Other features sought by the PAT include an updated cafeteria, a third floor STEM addition, an internal atrium, and a learning commons area with a Starbucks feel.

Each school’s architects will take the information gathered from the charrette and put it together in initial designs for the PATs to review and tweak further. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to view initial designs and hear from team members and project architects at an upcoming community meeting.

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